UK dismisses Iraq rift claims

While UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday the interim Iraqi government, due to take over the reins on June 30, would have the power to veto military operations, the US said its troops would reserve the right to defend themselves.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “The final political control (over foreign troops) remains with the Iraqi government. That’s what the transfer of sovereignty means.”

But US Secretary of State Colin Powell told a news conference in Washington: “Ultimately… US forces remain under US command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves.”

The apparent difference between the allies could complicate efforts to secure UN Security Council endorsement of the handover plan.

This comes as permanent council members France, Russia and China indicated they wanted changes to the draft resolution, tabled by the UK and US on Monday outlining Iraq’s return to sovereignty.

Mr Prescott said on Wednesday the Iraqi leadership would be in charge of dealing with terrorists, but British and American troops would have the right to defend themselves if they were to come under attack from insurgents.

He said any confusion over the positions of the US and Britain show that negotiation and interpretation is already underway.

The exact position of troops in post-June 30 Iraq is potentially the key issue in the negotiations.

A leading member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council said he wants the resolution “clarified” to make clear that multi-national troops are in the country only at the invitation of Baghdad.

Adnan Pachachi, who is being tipped as a possible leader of the caretaker authority, said operations must be conducted in consultation with the interim government.

The issue comes as diplomats from the 15 UN Security Council nations meet in New York for informal discussions on a resolution to underpin the restoration of sovereignty in Iraq.

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